By Ruzanna Khachatrian
A car belonging to the editor of Armenia’s best-selling daily newspaper critical of the government was destroyed late Monday in an explosion which he said was as an assassination attempt engineered by a wealthy businessman.
The Russian-made Niva parked just outside the editorial offices of Nikol Pashinian’s “Haykakan Zhamanak” (Armenian Time) daily in central Yerevan burst into flames at 8:40 p.m. after the blast heard by the newspaper staff. A team of firefighters was called in to put out the fire which gutted the car’s front section, including the driver’s seat. Police officers also rushed to the scene and launched an immediate investigation.
Speaking at an improvised news conference in his office, Pashinian said he believes he stayed alive by accident. “In the last three months I have normally finished work at between 8:30 and 9 o’clock in the evening,” he said. “Today I worked longer than usual.”
“Haykakan Zhamanak,” which is sympathetic to Armenia’s former leadership, is known for its hard-hitting coverage of President Robert Kocharian and his government. The paper’s most recent harsh attack on the ruling regime appeared on the front page of its Friday edition which poured scorn on the chief of the Armenian police, Hayk Harutiunian, for defending last spring’s government crackdown on the Armenian opposition. The paper was particularly scathing about the authorities’ failure to investigate the police beating of its two reporters that covered the violent dispersal of the April 13 opposition rally in Yerevan.
Pashinian, however, was quick to make it clear that he does not believe that the apparent bomb attack was the work of the law-enforcement or other government agencies. He instead pointed the finger at Gagik Tsarukian, a parliament deputy and millionaire businessman close to Kocharian.
“I propose to the law-enforcement bodies to investigate the theory about the blast being organized by Multi Group chairman Gagik Tsarukian,” the young editor declared.
Pashinian suggested that he first incurred Tsarukian’s ire in August after publishing a derogatory cartoon that featured the tycoon, Kocharian and the chairman of Armenia’s National Olympic Committee, Ishkhan Zakarian. The images were attached to an article that deplored Armenia’s poor performance at the Olympic games in Athens.
Tsarukian was the deputy chairman of the Olympic Committee at the time and replaced Zakarian as its head earlier on Monday.
Pashinian claimed that the businessman repeatedly sought to meet with him after the August article. He said Tsarukian was also infuriated by a recent “Haykakan Zhamanak” story that accused him of illegally cutting trees to build a villa in the resort town of Tsaghkadzor.
There was no immediate reaction to the allegations from Tsarukian. Police officers investigating the explosion declined a comment.
The incident is certain to prompt a strong condemnation from Armenia’s leading journalist associations. They have repeatedly expressed concern about violence against local journalists which has increased dramatically this year.